The Traitor and the Stowaway: Persona Construction and the Quest for Cultural Anonymity and Cultural Relevance in the Trajectories of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen <br> doi:10.5429/2079-3871(2010)v1i2.6en


  • Christophe Lebold University of Strasbourg, Department of English and North-American Studies



persona construction songwriters postmodern lyricism


While wide apart in terms of cultural heritage and creative energy, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan reconfigured the figure of the oral poet as a cultural hero for the age of the mass media as they defined their basic postures – the (non)protest-singer as prophet and agent provocateur and the troubadour as high priest of the depths of the heart. We propose to analyze the modalities of their many cultural struggles – their artistic struggle against their audience, their discursive struggle against the critics, and their strategic struggle against the music industry. Also of interest are how those struggles arise in their art and persona construction and how they generate specific modes of performance and a specific relationship with their audiences. We will see as we proceed that Cohen and Dylan’s trajectories can be seen as inverted images of each other: Dylan has spent most of his career in a cultural war against his original position of hyper-relevance, trying to obliterate his own persona and regain a cultural anonymity, while Cohen, formerly a poet with no rock credentials, had to struggle his way towards a position of cultural relevance and turn what was essentially perceived as a literary gesture into a rock statement. Along the way, we will be brought to reflect on the functions and uses of heroes in rock culture and assess the amount of pop pleasures taken in the enjoyment of popular singers’ masks and personae.

Author Biography

Christophe Lebold, University of Strasbourg, Department of English and North-American Studies

Christophe Lebold is associate professor (maître de conferences) at the department of English and North-American Studies at the University of Strasbourg (France) where he teaches literature, the history of ideas, performance studies and translation. He obtained his doctorate in 2004 after a PhD devoted to the specificities of the art of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and has talked about songwriting, postmodern forms of lyricism and performance in various international conferences and several articles. He is also a fully-trained amateur theatre actor and regularly performs on stage.






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